I’m Reading: Kill Your Darlings by L.E. Harper

Sorry, but I need to gush about this one. Kill Your Darlings by L.E. Harper is an astounding piece of writing craft, as a self-aware story inside a subtly unfolding story, where all is not as we perceive. I received a free digital ARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

But first of all, make sure you read the forward of the book for trigger warnings. The triggers are there in a big way, so take them seriously if you are vulnerable to trauma.

Our MC is a fantasy author. We learn that she is on book 5 of her wildly successful YA fantasy series, and spiraling. Her editor hates her ending. Her revision deadline is days away. She hasn’t even started them. Depression and burnout have her in a chokehold. Her one escape is in her dreams, where she drops into her main character, Kyla, and spends time in the beautiful world of Solera that she’s created. But this time it feels different. This time, as she wakes up in her fictional lover’s arms, it might not be a dream.

When I first started Kill Your Darlings, I was a little meh on the standard fantasy world and creatures, and a few slightly shaky line edits. But I really loved the meta story. I loved how the MC lampshades the fantasy genre and tropes, playing with the meta narrative and fourth wall, and breaking all the rules. It felt like a Rian Johnson film, where the subtext, background, symbolism, and inside jokes took center stage over the actual plot. Then, as the book progressed and we learned all was not as it seemed, we discover the author was pulling off a master class in unreliable narrator. Just breathtakingly well-executed. And when dreams turned reality turned back into metaphor and the darkness falls, that last twist left me completely destroyed, and unable to put the book down.

I can see why Kill Your Darlings struggled in the query trenches. The real story, the thing that makes it unique and phenomenal, is a slow, subtle burn that takes time to develop. Querying, with the pitch plus ten pages approach, is going to bury a gem like this. It’s like trying to pitch a souffle to people looking for a candy bar. But if a slow-burn meta-narrative is your thing and you’re comfortable with darker themes, this is your dessert.

I picked this up excited for queer and Ace rep. I kept reading because it was a fun escapist fantasy. I loved the lampshading and the cleverness of an MC who knows what genre they’re in. But that last dark twist lets this book live rent-free in my head for the foreseeable future. Even now, days after reading, I look back and see how small pieces fit together into that final whole, and how perfectly unexpected yet inevitable the ending turned out to be.

*chef’s kiss*

Kill Your Darlings comes out on May 24, 2023 and is available for pre-order. Connect with this author on their TikTok at
https://www.tiktok.com/@selfpubdragon and make sure you request indie titles at your local library!

I’m Reading: Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake

Delilah Green doesn’t care. She’s built a whole life around it. Casual hookups, a soulless New York Apartment, and no contact with the small town of Bright Falls and the stepfamily that never cared about her. The only thing that matters is her photography career. When Delilah is critically behind on her rent and on the verge of stardom, her stepsister makes an offer she can’t refuse: come back to Bright Falls and photograph her society wedding. It would mean the kind of money Delilah hasn’t seen in years. Enough to get her through to her big break. But it also means returning to place where she grew up in painful isolation as a strange, forgotten ghost after her father died.

Delilah decides that while they can strongarm her into coming back to the town she loathes, she can do it on her own terms. That means wearing what she likes. It means moving through the pre-wedding events like a wrecking ball. It means seducing her stepsister’s best friend and bridesmaid, just to prove she can.

But the more time Delilah spends in Bright Falls, the more confusing things become. Her sister may need rescue more than torment, and the bridesmaid fling grows into a deeper connection. Delilah finds it harder and harder to not care. And ghosts from her past make her question for the first time, between her and her stepsister, just who stopped caring first.

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care is one of those books that starts off simple, then starts peeling back layers of complexity as we go. It tackles hard topics like blended families, grief, expectations, and whether people are capable of change. But there is enough lightness to carry the weighty topics. I love the symmetry of each character fighting to throw off a different maladaptive coping mechanism. Despite coming from similar wounds, each character has a different journey toward healing. Some must learn to trust those that let them down. Others must trust themselves enough to set boundaries and say no.

The steam is delicious, and Delilah’s connection with Claire is unmistakably hot and powerful from the first moment they meet. The pacing of their emotional connection balances well with their sexual attraction. Claire’s kid and ex both serve as additional complexities in her relationship with Delilah. She must trust Delilah with her child’s heart, as well as her own. Delilah must trust Claire in return to not fall back into her ex’s arms. After all, Claire is one of her sister’s friends, and Delilah already knows what it’s like to be cast aside and forgotten by these women.

For this and other books, visit the author’s website at http://www.ashleyherringblake.com/. And don’t forget to request at your local public library!

Content notices for Delilah Green Doesn’t Care: Death of parent, childhood bullying and neglect, emotional abuse by parent and spouse, cheating exes.

I’m Reading: The Layover by Lacie Waldon

My local library has added some gems lately, and The Layover by Lacie Waldon is among them!

Ava Greene’s fiancé and love of her life is everything she wanted as a child. Settled. Scheduled. Predictable. Everything her irresponsible wandering nomad parents were not. She’s even willing to give up her career as a flight attendant to make this marriage work. Now her last trip has a coveted layover in Belize, and she’s taking the opportunity to celebrate the kickoff of her new life. Especially since her busy lawyer fiancé never has time to travel.

But this trip comes with a sour note in the form of Jack Stone, a former hotshot pilot and party to the most humiliating night of her life. She’s determined to enjoy this trip despite him, but mechanical issues mean delays, and the more time she spends around Stone, the harder it is to hate him. While she swore this was her last trip, it also reminds her of everything she loves about her job. Now Ava starts to wonder whether she can actually leave this life behind.

Her fiancé is adamant. He hates her unpredictable schedule, the unexpected delays, the inconvenience to his own tight schedule. He wants her home every night, a housewife and mother to his children. That’s what Ava told him she wanted. However, what she wished for as a child (stability, permanence) starts to feel more like a cage. Now she wonders whether she can put down roots without giving up the sky.

The Layover by Lacie Waldon is that sweet spot of romcom with profound personal revelation and growth. It talks about how we get to change and want new things, even as adults. It explores that moment when you have to let go of your maladaptive coping mechanisms when they no longer serve you. But all that is going on underneath the hood. At heart we have a light fun beachy romcom full of hijinks, delightful secondary characters, and the chaotic path to true love.

I love the subplots as much as the main, which always makes for a satisfying read. Ava’s unexpected friendships aboard her last flight and the quest to set up Gen and Pilot Paul adds to the hijinks and sweetness. The descriptions of Belize make me ache to trail my own hands through the bioluminescent pools. But mostly I want friends like Gen and Pilot Paul, and Ava and Jack, and the layover adventures they have together.

For The Layover and other work, visit the author at https://www.laciewaldon.com/. Don’t forget to request it at your local library!

I’m Reading: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

I picked up Dial A for Aunties from my local library this month, and couldn’t wait to talk about it!

Meddy is the good daughter. She stuck around and gave up the love of her life to go into the wedding business with her ma and aunties. All her cousins moved away as far and as fast as they could, but Meddy can’t bear to let her family down. Even when they try to control every part of her life.

But then Ma sets her up on a blind date with a creep and Meddy accidentally kills him in self-defense. She turns to the women who raised her for help, her Ma and Aunties. But tomorrow there’s a billionaire island wedding that will skyrocket their business to fame. They need to be on a boat in a few short hours, ready to organize the wedding of the century. That’s hardly time to dispose of a body properly. But it’s okay, because the Aunties have a plan. What could possibly go wrong?

This book is a must-read for writers because it breaks all the rules we stress over. It’s completely implausible, packed with coincidence and chaos, and has plot holes big enough to hide a body. It’s messy and chaotic.

And it’s FABULOUS. 

Dial A for Aunties is a romp, a heist, and a romance all rolled up in a pork dumpling. It’s Weekend at Bernie’s meets Crazy Rich Asians. Each new plot twist evokes a “What!?” of disbelief. Every hijink had me laughing out loud and face-palming (which is tricky while wearing reading glasses). Every new dilemma had me turning the page, until I finished the book with bleary-eyed satisfaction after 1am.

Meddy’s arc of finding her own identity and boundaries in the face of a loving but overwhelming family is well-developed and relatable. We root for her to find her balance, and it looks much different from her cousins’ solutions of fleeing to the far side of the country. The immersive cultural details are accessible and beautifully portrayed. Don’t be fooled by the hijinks, this book has depth and heartbreak under the laughter. You just have to let go of your preconceived notions and critical eye, pop some popcorn, and throw your whole heart into this wacky, cinematic, and thoroughly enjoyable story.

For links to this and other books, visit the author’s website at https://www.jesseqsutanto.com/ . Don’t forget to request it at your public library!

I’m Reading: Love and Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

Dahlia Woodson has a plan to reinvent herself after a messy divorce left her world gray. If she can just win the reality cooking competition Chef’s Special, the prize money and fame will let her clear away the past and find the kind of future she’s been dreaming of. But when her feelings for her rival, non-binary London Parker, come to a boil, she must decide whether she’s ready to risk it all, including her heart, on another person again.

London Parker is intensely shy and reserved, which is why their coming-out as gender non-binary on a nationally televised cooking show is all the stress they can handle. They don’t have time for a bubbly, breathtakingly adorable rival creeping into their heart. They’re too busy proving the trolls (and their dad) wrong. But love doesn’t always care about your plans in life.

Love and Other Disasters has all the foodie TV feel-goods and sex-positivity you’re looking for in a romance, including a wedding crashing, a sweet grumpy-sunshine dynamic, and a dessert in bed scene that might not hit for all readers. But what really hit me was London’s character. I can see so much of myself in them and the development of their gender identity that the affirmation brought me to actual tears. The dysphoria struggle is real, raw, and honestly handled. It was a fiercely empowering read for me, as well as a gentle, sweet, spicy, sexy taking of SoCal by storm. I particularly loved Dahlia’s complicated, nuanced relationship with her mother, and the healing that rose from it.

At heart, this is a deliciously satisfying read, that also tackles some hard conversations and doesn’t shy away from showing the bad and the good in ways that leave the reader with hope for us all.

Content Notices for: On-page explicit homophobia and transphobia (including transphobic parent rejection and deadnaming), blood, and anxiety, use of AFAB language.

See Anita Kelly’s work at https://anitakellywrites.com/ and don’t forget to request it at your local library!

I’m Reading: Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

Andrew’s bond with his best friend Eddie was deeper than blood or friendship, rooted in deep magic and deeper secrets. When Andrew gets word of Eddie’s apparent suicide, it tears Andrew’s whole world apart. He’s drawn back to Nashville to piece together Eddie’s last days, certain that there’s more to the death than he’s been told.

I’m picky about gothics. Not because I’m somehow an expert in the genre, but specifically because I’m not. So my favorite gothics tend to be contemporary genre crossovers with accessible writing style, vivid characters, and a strong sense of place.

Summer Sons just clicked for me. It is a slow, dark, languid dive into the Appalachians. We walk the line of social tension between the elite and the back woods, old South generational wealth and generational curses, ivory towers and street racers, queer masculinity and violence.

What I love best about Summer Sons, besides the sheer craftsmanship, is the handling of ghosts. Andrew’s powers and affinity for the dead are woven tightly into the story, heavy with dread and metaphor. There is no friendly Casper guiding the MC gently to a life lesson. The ghosts are visceral, angry, and dangerous, seducing Andrew into a spiral of his own self-destruction.

But the craftsmanship! I simultaneously disliked every single character, yet wanted to really dive into in their head and rooted for their redemption. The author pulled me into scenes and hobbies I had no interest in and made me care. The characters made terrible, toxic, self-loathing, and self-pitying decisions, but made me understand and sympathize. It is the kind of story that lingers for hours once you close the book, like the taste of coffee after you drink. It’s not the kind of book you take to the beach for a light summer read.

It’s the kind of book that haunts you.

To find a copy of Summer Sons visit the author’s website at https://leemandelo.com/

Content warnings for suicide, alcoholism, drug use, graphic violence, supernatural horror, and homophobia.

I’m Reading: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Dev Deshpande makes happy-ever-afters happen. As a producer on the top reality dating show, his specialty is crafting a story of true love, even when his own love life crashes and burns.

But this season’s bachelor, tech genius Charlie Winshaw, is a disaster. Stiff, awkward, picky, and anxious, he’s as far from prince charming material as the show has ever seen. Worse, he doesn’t even believe in love—he’s only on the show to rehabiliate his image.

Dev’s mission is to get Charlie to open up, relax, and give love a chance with the women vying to be chosen as his princess. But the more Charlie opens up, the more they realize he has better chemistry with Dev than the 20 women he’s supposed to choose a wife from. The two men are faced with a high-stakes choice: Go along with the illusion and save both their careers, or challenge everyone’s assumptions of who deserves a happy-ever-after.

This is one of those rare and precious cinnamon-roll love stories that make my heart sing, because the author does not confuse cinnamon-roll with passive or feminine. Charlie is strong, loyal, physical, and willing to fight for what he wants. He’s just also soft, sweet, anxious, and wounded by a world that refuses to see him. With OCD and panic disorder, his biggest struggle is internal; he must take off the mask that he’s worked so hard to make, because he assumed he had to meet the expectations of others to deserve happiness.

Dev and Charlie’s dynamic is reminiscent of Alex and Henry in Red, White, and Royal Blue. Dev has the same frenetic energy and wild charm, balanced by Charlie’s wounded softness. It’s a dynamic that works well, lending itself to adorable squee moments and outrageous, witty banter. The writing craft is strong from the line-level on up, the pacing well-balanced, and the secondary characters are ones we want to see center-stage in their own stories. This one is definitely going in my re-read pile.

Look and ask for The Charm Offensive at your local library, or visit the author’s website at https://www.alisoncochrun.com/ for purchasing options and upcoming titles!

I’m Reading: Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Ari Abram’s dream is to be a meteorologist, and counts herself lucky to work with her childhood hero, the ever calm and cheerful Torrance Hale at KSEA 6 in Seattle. But instead of the close relationship with her mentor she’d craved, she spends most of her time trying to defuse shouting matches and petty fights between Torrance and her divorced husband, the news director.

Desperate, she teams up with cinnamon roll sports reporter Russell Barringer to play matchmaker. If they can make their bosses fall in love again, it will make everyone’s lives easier at KSEA 6. But Ari wasn’t planning to fall in love herself. It would mean letting someone see past the sunshine girl, into the darkness beneath.

My favorite romances have both elements of light, funny, wholesome squish and tackle darker themes of identity and self-growth to keep it real and grounded. Weather Girl is a great blend, with the refreshing bonus of a sexy-sweet fat male lead, Jewish characters, blending families, and a twist that is as surprising as it is satisfying. I love the exploration of generational trauma relieved by laugh-out-loud dialogue. The author is also a master of steam, putting more panting sexual tension into a casual brush of skin than some books pack into an entire sex scene. There are, of course, also a few sex scenes, so lovers of extra chili peppers will enjoy this book.

Please be aware that the book deals with depression and mental health, childhood emotional trauma, and inpatient mental health in a respectful, accurate way. It addresses issues that don’t get discussed often enough, like the effect of medication on sex drive, the reality of bad days even on well-managed symptoms, and processing forgiveness as an option instead of an obligation. It’s real, but so are the good moments, the vulnerability, and the happy-ever-after.

Visit the author’s website at http://www.rachelsolomonbooks.com/ to find a copy of Weather Girl, or request it at your local library.

I’m Reading: Crunching Her Numbers by Mia Sivan

I had the pleasure of beta-reading this book, and I love the author’s vision for it. I also received an ARC copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. I can honestly recommend it to any steamy contemporary romance reader.

The Tel Aviv financial world is a world of men. Kelly, an investment manager and Argentinian immigrant, must be twice as good and twice as tough to hold her position at the top. That’s fine with her. After all, she’s happy, rich, and really only needs a man for one thing. It seems like the ideal solution to take up an affair with her younger Russian masseur, Slava. Sweet, romantic Slava is head-over-heels for Kelly, but she’s clear at the beginning that there will be no happy-ever-after—no matter how good he looks kneeling at her feet.

Illan is a private investigator working for the Israeli Securities Agency to uncover a massive market manipulation scheme. He needs Kelly’s help, but her whistleblowing and cooperating with the ISA could risk everything she’d worked for. He asks that he trust her not just with her career, but with her pleasure, and her deepest vulnerabilities. When he asks her to give up Slava, though, she finds that no-strings doesn’t mean easy to let go.

This is a bit of a break from my recent Romcom streak, although the author does bring some lighthearted moments to balance the serious circumstances and stakes. Sivan brings the diverse city of Tel Aviv to life as a backdrop to this steamy romance about financial trading scandals, intrigue, and the global immigrant experience. With well-researched and realistic BDSM and polyamory rep, this story brings the heat in a big way. But it also makes the complex world of financial trading and investigation accessible and interesting to readers with no background in finance. The characters are beautifully developed, with unique voices that jump off the page. We see them all as real people in their different strengths and vulnerabilities, and root for all three right to the very end.

Follow Mia Sivan on her Amazon Author Page for Crunching Her Numbers and upcoming releases.

I’m Reading: Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens

Laura is a hopeless romantic and professional meet-cute reporter. Her own parents’ story of being brought together by a broken antique coin across the sea has set high standards for her love life, and she’s not about to settle for less than epic romance.

As she travels to the island of Jersey to trace her parents’ romantic footsteps for a story, her luggage gets switched at the airport. The contents of the mystery suitcase convinces her that the owner is the man of her dreams and she must find him to fulfill very own meet-cute. But as she tracks him down with the help of a surly cab driver and rediscovers her island roots, she uncovers family secrets that threaten to unravel her belief in happy ever after.

For me this romcom had the perfect balance of serious, funny, wholesome and whimsical to draw me right in. There are clever nods and twists to genre tropes and reader expectations that made the story fresh, and a light touch on the history of the island that captures the heart of the place without feeling that we’re being lectured on a school trip.

The plot threads get a little meandering at the end, but the dynamic characters carry it through with a well-constructed twist. The resolution is deeply satisfying all around, and the light touch makes this a great, cozy, curl up on the beach, escapist kind of read, with more laughter than tears, and all the warmth of a good cuppa with friends.

Visit the author’s page at https://www.sophiecousens.com/ to buy this book, or request it at your local library!